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Student unionism: Student leaders and their dogmatic followers

“Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.” —Warren Benn.
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Heading towards my department a few days after the Great Ife Students’ Union Elections, I got drawn in by the conversation I overheard between two guys conversing in the Yoruba language. One of them said something along the lines of “I told you that those people are unworthy leaders. They thought they could manipulate us to support their average candidate. Thank God, we didn’t give in, now they have failed”.

His voice, struggling between mildness and frustration, echoed; “Disgraceful Fellows”. Initially, I thought he was upset about the loss of his candidate in the elections. However, my postulation was swiftly buried when he further told his friend that, had the students’ favourites not emerged, those people (the acclaimed leaders) would have jubilated even when it would have been a failure for the faculty.

That’s when I grasped the crux of the whole discussion. A set of students in that faculty who might have been positioning themselves as leaders projected a candidate who was not well-received by the students. They resisted the action and the aftermath was that the majority’s choice emerged while the acclaimed leaders’ choice suffered defeat.

Ratiocinating on this scenario, my mind traversed many antecedents within departmental and faculty associations and one can only say that it is a recurring pattern of events.

Between stakeholders and the students’ interests

In many student associations, it is not novel to have a set of students coming together or being selected with the major aim of representing the association on strategic matters since everyone can’t be at the helm of decision-making. Over the years, the leadership of such associations and maybe students, have supported this act, leading to the formation of the “Stakeholders”.

Candidly, having representatives is a necessary strategy, especially in the political sphere of student associations. However, in recent times, I have observed that some of these representatives are now self-proclaimed and have strayed from their purpose. Rather than focusing on satisfying the needs of the student population, they have become more interested in furthering personal interests. Unfortunately, this often leads to situations where qualified candidates are frustrated or indirectly intimidated to give up on contesting.

To make it clearer, what they do is project a candidate with average qualities but with audience appeal and can conveniently play the pawn in their chess board while shunning the one with the right qualities since he is a threat to their selfish agenda. They go ahead to negotiate with other camps in the guise of representing the students but they end up satisfying their greed. Meanwhile, when this puppet emerges and fails, the stain will be on the association and faintly on the acclaimed stakeholders.

Sadly, when one traces the reason for the failure, it is most likely a result of the leader’s excessive demands coupled with the puppet’s incompetence.

We have witnessed how products of permutation, not competence, failed. Likewise, the opposite. However, should a product of their usual type of permutation perform? Two things are involved. First is either he abandoned them after emerging, which is almost impossible, or he found ways around satisfying them likewise serving the students populace.

Leaders with no standing

Just like anyone defeated will try to figure out the reason for his loss, after a recent election on this campus, the defeated contestant felt so bad that the feeling was already forming wrinkles on his face.

Powered by curiosity, I approached him for a remark about the conduct of the elections. Instead of a direct response, he only retorted that his “acclaimed leader has failed him again”. He proceeded that he worked solely to pull that number of votes while his acclaimed leader didn’t offer anything obvious or behind the scene.

When I heard this, my body was already responding with sympathy until he said “Leader na leader”. That’s when I knew that his defeat was a result of a marriage between a leader with no proper authority and a follower who held onto dogmatic beliefs. It is perplexing to see how someone who recognised his acclaimed leader’s incompetence still accepted him moronically.

Before you think he might be helping in other ways, the so-called leader is the one benefiting from the financial strength of this individual. It’s concerning that this “leader” hasn’t even learned the basics. No ideology, nothing. Just vibes and selfish permutations.

To rebel or give up?

Inferring from the last union elections, some students were said to have stood against the decision of the stakeholders of their faculty who wanted to use a candidate to negotiate their greediness. While this is a positive development, it remains to be seen whether they are also truly committed to becoming responsible leaders that prioritise the interest of the students. Well, only time will tell whether they champion the ethos of putting the students’ needs first and demonstrating competence in leadership.


“Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.” —Warren Benn.

By: Ajibade Abdullah Adewale

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